How to search Libraries Australia from the comfort of your blog

15 February 2008

I talked a bit in the previous post about the value of Libraries Australia for finding useful Australian and international content. Like Google Book Search, you can use the Libraries Australia catalogue to find out which libraries stock the books you need.

Blogger users can now add a Libraries Australia search box to their blogs (sorry WordPress users — we miss out again!):

1. Log in to your blog
2. Click the ‘Customize’ link in the top right hand corner of your screen
3. Make sure you have selected the ‘Page Elements’ tab
4. Click on the link to ‘Add a Page Element’
5. A new window opens
6. In the new window, scroll down to ‘HTML/JavaScript’ and click the ‘Add to Blog’ button
7. Choose a name for your search box, eg ‘Search Libraries Australia’, and enter this in the ‘Title’ box
8. Copy and paste the following code to the ‘Content’ section:

<iframe src=”http://librariesaustralia.nla.gov.au/searchbox/search_s.html&#8221;
name=”lasearchframe” scrolling=”no” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″
frameborder=”0″ style=”width: 15em; height: 7em;”>
<a href=”http://librariesaustralia.nla.gov.au”>Search Libraries Australia</a>
</iframe>

9. Click ‘Save Changes’ and the pop up window closes
10. Use your mouse to move page elements around until you’re happy with the layout, then click ‘Save’
11. When you view your blog, a green Libraries Australia search box should now appear

(Code courtesy of the Libraries Australia website).

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To map out a course of action requires courage*

1 February 2008

I have a confession to make. I have absolutely no sense of direction. I’ve always known this; my family has always known this. In the past I preferred that no-one else knew, but I think it’s time to ‘fess up.

This is probably the worst example so far of my utter incompetence:

Where we should have gone: Moonee Ponds to Richmond
Where we went: Moonee Ponds to Richmond, via Brunswick

I’ve also been from Kew to Hawthorn before, via Balwyn. It’s even more embarrassing when I’m the only native Melburnian in the car, and it’s actually one of my companions from New Zealand who realises we’re going the wrong way.

(‘Lost’, from Bewdlerian’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

There’s not a lot I can do about my problem. Like most faults, apparently it’s genetic and I inherited it from my grandmother. But I always make sure I plan my trips in advance. And, most importantly, I always take a map.

In the past, I used streetdirectory.com.au, which is wonderful because it utilises the Melways maps that most Melburnians find instantly recognisable, as well as showing detailed public transport routes. The alternative, whereis.com, generates a pretty crude map, and even gets the capitalisation of my suburb wrong. However, both whereis.com and streetdirectory.com.au require users to buy their maps to embed in a website. And why should we do that when we have Google to help us get from here to there?

Google Maps is still fine-tuning the detail on its Australian maps, but it promises a great service. Google Maps users can now use custom icons to mark important spots on their maps. Using the MyMap feature, US and Canadian users can add a ‘mapplet’ to overlay customisable weather data on their maps. Google provides prepared code for users to cut and paste to their websites; as a consequence, many commercial, educational and personal websites now incorporate Google Maps. Libraries such as the Moraine Valley Community College Library embed  maps in their websites to guide students and staff to local places of interest.

You’ll have noticed that despite the relative ease of embedding maps, there are none in this post. Unfortunately, WordPress can’t interpret the code used to display Google Maps in (Google) Blogger, and the plugins available to remedy this problem only work with hosted WordPress.org blogs, not WordPress.com blogs. Disappointing, and another strike against WordPress, but the cynical might argue that it’s another way that Google makes sure its products dominate the market.

A fellow 23 Things blogger lavishes praise on Google Maps for mobile, explaining how he could help some lost people by looking up the address they sought on his mobile phone. As for me, I have really lousy eyesight, and I’d rather not attempt to discern anything on a tiny, fingerprint-smudged screen, especially not a detailed map. I know it’s a retrograde notion, but there are some things that are just better in print.

Of course, Google is famous for recycling content (to put it as nicely as possible), and Google Maps certainly follows this mantra. While it’s useful to know that Google Maps can display Google Books, YouTube and Flickr content on maps, I would be caught very much offguard if it were my content being recycled. As an example, following my post on Technorati, I ran a quick Google search on ‘libodyssey’ to see if I’d become an overnight sensation. Of course I hadn’t, but you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found my Flickr photos in the top-ranked results, where they’re being used by a travel site to promote the Apollo Bay region! It’s important to note that there is nothing illegal afoot here; I licensed all my public photos under a Creative Commons Licence and certainly didn’t exclude commercial usage. I should in fact be flattered, but I was nonetheless surprised. Those who claim to be privacy conscious should be aware that nothing is ever simple with Google; Amazon’s Kindle reader may use Google Maps to tell you where you are, but if it can share that data with you, it can share it with other people, too.

(‘Anagram Transport Map’, from woowoowoo’s Flickr photos and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

Beware of this map; it could lead you up the garden path.

* ‘Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage which a soldier needs.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Locked in a war of WordPress

11 September 2007

This is not the first time I’ve published. It’s not even my first experience with a blog. I’ve written a collaborative blog with friends, I’m a ‘regular correspondent’ on Derek’s ALIA Blog, I’m about to start writing for the Swinburne Library Blog, and I even want to add to the huge number of library professional blogs everyone wants to read but no-one has time for … least of all me.

This is probably testament to my obsession with seeing my own words in print. You might ask, what did every ego maniac do for a sense of fulfillment before it became so easy to publish online? The answer: we wrote to the Green Guide, which is entirely soulless and unromantic in online form, hence the need for some other kind of online forum.

This is my first experience with WordPress. In the past, I’ve always used Blogger, but I thought I’d use Swinburne 23 Things as an opportunity to present a more sophisticated-looking WordPress blog. Many people are sceptical of Blogger because it is now owned by Google, and any monopoly that so successfully manages to push everyone else out of the market must be worthy of scorn … Librarians in particular have a love/hate relationship with Google; yes, it has simplified the search mindset (why look it up in a reputable source when you can just Google it?), but a single search engine, however wealthy and powerful it might be, cannot put librarians out of a job. Instead of fighting Google, we should take advantage of the simplicity it has brought to the Web. And my advice to you is that this extends to Blogger. Use it.

WordPress may look pretty, but it allows next to no customisation. Users can’t edit the stylesheet underneath their blogs unless they pay for a CSS upgrade. Blogger, on the other hand, is extremely customisable. Users can have as little or as much involvement in the design layout of their blogs as they choose. This blog post even suggests that Blogger is just as good for professional blogs as personal ones. And what’s the point of a free blog if you can’t make it your own? Tim Berners-Lee never intended us to pay for the Web, especially for a tool that allows users both to read and edit the Web at the same time (part of his original design specifications for a Web browser).

I’m a bit of a Tim Berners-Lee fan. The only money he ever makes out of the Web is from the sale of his books. That means he makes a lot less from realising his utopian knowledge-sharing dream (the Web), which some conservatives consider the ultimate vehicle for committing crime, than this man makes from his consecutive jail terms.